Documenting the American South Logo
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Terry Sanford, [date unknown]. Interview A-0140. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Reflection on V. O. Key's views of progressive politics in North Carolina

Even in racially centered campaigns, Sanford contends that North Carolina politics have not changed much since V. O. Key's original assessment of North Carolina's progressivism. Sanford traces the political legacy of North Carolina governors who enticed their citizens to embrace moderation rather than extremism.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Terry Sanford, [date unknown]. Interview A-0140. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

And my real question is, was there a misreading of Key in North Carolina, or have things changed? And if so, why?
I don't think that he misread it at the time, and I don't think that that would be too far off right now. What you've got to remember, I'm sure Key was aware that North Carolina wasn't all one way, any more than Virginia was all one way for Byrd. Though at many times it looked like Virginia was. Many times we were just a few percentage points of going in that direction, if you'll look back at the turn of the century particularly. And it was just by luck that Aycock, who ran as a white supremist, and did certain things to make the party white supremist, nevertheless turned around and became a very liberal education governor, advocating the education of the blacks. Now, he could have taken a shorter range view. Had he taken a shorter range view he probably would have ended up in the United States Senate. He was trying, anyhow, when he died, but he wouldn't have been elected, most historians think. We've always had some Alabama and South Carolina and Virginia here, just as they've always had some North Carolina there, if you can use those terms in that way. We've just been luckier, because our slight majority fell on one side, whereas their majority fell on the other. And I take it that the other majority somehow feeds on itself, and the more you get, the more you get. The more popular it becomes. And then I think that's probably what happened here. The first straight-out racist campaign that I remember was the 1950 election. The first election I remember in detail where I watched it, took part in it, observed it, from a statewide point of view, although I was in high school, was the 1936 campaign, which had all seeds for this kind of campaign, and yet none of them sprouted. You had Hoey, the conservative old hypocrite, that was the representative of the manufacturing forces. If there was an establishment, it wasn't much of an establishment in North Carolina. You had Sandy Graham, the clever legislative likable politician. And you had the rebel from out of state, the professor from Salem College, that had been in one term in the legislature, Ralph McDonald, who almost beat him. If ever there was a Henry Howell type situation, that was it. But the race issue, in my memory, never came forth from any side. They never accused McDonald of being racist. McDonald never raised that issue. And that, I think, would justify what Key wrote, even under that stress and strain, when the establishment was assaulted by a carpetbagger in the worst kind of way. We survived those kind of tensions. Then our elections fell back into being pretty much within the accepted framework. That is, the . . . the North Carolinians of some distinction running against each other, something like this last time. You had Broughton and five other . . . the race issue never got into that. Occasionally the labor business would get into it, but that's a little bit different. Broughton-Umstead campaign made a big thing out of Broughton's support of organized labor. And Broughton handled it by saying he was for all citizens. Even so, I think we kept down some of the more violent differences, just by the nature of the people.